We The People

I was too nervous to watch the election coverage last night. I turned my phone to silent, put on my coziest pajamas, and went to sleep. I woke once or twice, and fought the urge to check on the progress. What would be would be, and I somehow felt that my faith in the good, paired with my refusal to look at results would protect us all. I was so wrong.

I wept this morning when I saw what had happened while I slept. Sobbed, actually, unable to make sense of what I was seeing. Today is my youngest child’s 3rd birthday, and I am terrified of the country he will wake up to.

But that’s the trick, isn’t it?  To not see this as a reflection on our country, on the people we will walk past and talk with today? The trick is to see this as the delusion of the group who was somehow able to turn out in larger, louder numbers. To remember that the most publicized voices are rarely the ones we should be listening to.

We are a good people, we are a loving people. Look at the ways our country has changed and grown in the past few years. Look at the people in our lives – friends, coworkers, family members – who now have rights and protections they were denied for so long. I have to believe in my heart that the love and courage of the many can still drown out the hatred and fear of the few. And I have to believe in my heart that this is still the truth: there are more of us than there are of them. We are stronger. We love harder. Our faith in the good cannot be shaken even in the face of darkest evil

I’m thinking this morning of all the photos I’ve seen in my life of dangerous places, war torn nations, ghettos where children still played in the streets, friends still sat with heads tipped together and spoke of big, impossible dreams. We have been fortunate in recent history to live in a country where our leaders, for the most part, tried to keep us together and safe and happy. There are countless people in countless places who have never felt those things, but who work towards happiness anyway.

That is what I have to do, what we all have to do in this terrifying time. Work towards happiness anyway. Love one another anyway. Fight for what is good and right anyway. The test of a person, a family, a people is not what we do when the road is smoothly paved for us, but what we do when everything around us has crumbled. We show our true colors and make whatever God we believe in so very proud when, in moments like this, we stand together and refuse to let fear destroy us.

Please, do not let fear destroy you today. Cry your tears, wrap up your tender little hearts, and go out into this beautiful world. Smile at strangers. Over-tip the person who makes your coffee. Call your mom or your dad or your sister or your friend from second grade and tell them how very very very much you adore them. Hold the door for the person behind you, even if you think they might be one of them.  Especially if you think they might be one of them. Because that’s what he wants, isn’t it? To scare us, to divide us, to build a freaking wall between us. No. Not today, not in my life, not in my country. I will not let the hatred of some dampen the love of many. I will not let fear crush my sense of community with every single person around me.

Today is not about that one man. He is not us and we are not him. Today is about you and me and all of us, rising together to show the world what we are truly made of. We are made of love. We are made of courage. We are made of strength. And nothing can tear that away from us.


His Delicate Secrets


The first time I heard about him, I had a feeling I would fall in love with him. They told me he was 5 1/2, and seemed very bright, although he had never spoken a word.

The day I finally met him, I wore the shirt with the buildings all over it. They told me that he liked to build things, and I hoped it would help him to see me as a friend. I knew he had trust issues. I would, too, if I had been bounced around from home to home for so many years.

He looked at me with serious eyes as I walked toward the table where he was eating. “Peanut butter and jelly, huh?” I asked, smiling. “I like mine with strawberry jam, cut diagonal with a glass of milk.”

I could see him considering this, looking at his own grape-jellied sandwich that had not been cut in any way. He looked up at me, quickly, and I could see the question in his eyes.

“I like grape jelly, too,” I said, softly. “Maybe I can bring one with strawberry jam tomorrow, and we can both share.”

He smiled, so fast I almost missed it, before he stood and quickly walked away.

Salt of The Earth

photo - hand on map

In his rearview mirror, the cab driver saw the girl pull a handful of tiny blue packages out of her orange backpack. He heard crinkling as she tore one open, and realized by the smell that they were peanuts. Lots of little airline bags of peanuts. She took one peanut at a time and nibbled it slowly, like she was really considering the taste and texture of each one. More likely, he thought, she was rationing them.

Jaheed had been driving his cab for long enough to recognize a kid who wasn’t just on her way home from school, or taking a trip to visit grandma. No, this girl wasn’t on her way to anywhere. She was just on her way away from something, or someone.

Feeling a tinge of pity for her, Jaheed spoke. “I have an extra bottle of water if you want it. Hasn’t even been opened yet.”

The girl looked up, hope flashing across her young face, before quickly looking back down. She had learned that accepting help meant you might be obligated to someone, and she couldn’t afford that kind of risk. “It’s ok,” she said softly. “You keep it.”

Jaheed picked the bottle up and passed it back to her anyway. “No, really, it’s yours. Peanuts always make me thirsty.”

For a second, the girl smiled as she met his eyes in the rearview. She saw only kindness before she reached tentatively for the bottle and muttered a quiet thank you. Then she drank like she hadn’t had water in days.

This is an installment in a series of short stories, as I play with the wonderful world of fiction.

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A Long Way Down

building photo for A Long Way Down.jpg

It’s really only terrifying until you let yourself tumble over the edge. One minute, there’s cold concrete under you, and you tip forward until suddenly there’s nothing but air. Up until that moment, it’s all fear and nerves, panic and nausea. But once your body is weightless, surrounded by wind and sky, it’s actually exhilarating. Like being in the ocean and feeling your body both moving in and moved by a force larger than you could hope to name.

I open my hands wide, feeling the air force its way between my fingers, and I wiggle each one in turn. I wish I had thought to take off my shoes and socks. I bet this would feel great on my toes.

I feel thankful for this sense of calm and joy that is washing over me. You hear stories of people who do something like this, or just try to do something like this, only to feel waves of regret. I’ve had enough years of regret already. My life is a book filled with page after page of bad decisions, things and people so lost to me that there’s no chance of return. This choice is the one that will finally set me free.

The atrium windows are open as I fall past the 28th floor, and I hear the phone ringing for a quick second before the sound is sucked away with the air above me. I know the receptionist will answer it in that same warm but hurried voice I’ve heard so many times.

Funny, in all these years, it never occurred to me to walk down and say hello. Would only have been fair, as many times as she said hello to me. Gloria? No. Gladys? I should know this. Why don’t I know this? Do I really take people for granted so easily? All this time, and I’ve just been one more asshole in a grey suit.

I look back up to those windows and send up a pitiful prayer that I survive the fall, just long enough to tell one last person that I appreciate her. That she matters.

This is an installment in a series of short stories, as I play with the wonderful world of fiction.
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Skin Deep

woman's back photo
He had a scar across his ribcage, thick and raised. She noticed it the first time he took his shirt off, and she quickly looked away. It wasn’t that she was bothered by it, just that she knew scars could stand for lives people would rather forget.
It had been months now, and she could sense that he was expecting her to ask about it, or at least to mention it. But they couldn’t have that conversation. She had had it before, and it always turned to her own body, her own scars.
She had decided years ago to hold that secret in her heart. Hold it there until it eventually faded to a memory that she could pretend was a dream, or a story from a book she once read. No matter how he got his scar, he wouldn’t be able to accept how she got hers, or why there were so many of them.
This is the first installment of a series of short stories, as I play with the wonderful world of fiction.
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Magical Wolves and Colossal D-Bags

A billion years ago, I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and found myself at a quirky little party in a quirky little neighborhood on New Year’s Eve. I don’t really remember much specifically about the party, other than it was the first home I had been to where they had taken to hanging their bikes on the ceiling to save space.

Oh, and there was that guy who told the magical wolf story.

I’m not sure how I ended up chatting with this guy, but we were sitting on the floor with one other guy, having some beers, and mentally counting down the minutes until we could eat the cupcakes that we had been told repeatedly we may not eat until midnight.

So this guy starts talking about a book he wants to write, or maybe has already started writing, about a family of magical wolves. He had asked if I wanted to hear about it, and I said sure, and off he went. He was clearly really into this wolf story, and I could see how excited he was to be telling us about it. I don’t know a lot about wolves, or magic, or magical wolves, but I tried hard to follow his meandering plot line, nodding where appropriate and asking questions to help keep myself on track.

We were maybe 3 or 4 minutes into his talking about the book when the other guy Just stood up and walked away without saying a word. Maybe he had a terrifying encounter with magical wolves a few years back, and the story was making his PTSD kick in. Maybe, against his friend’s advice, he had eaten the week-old oysters in their fridge before coming to the party, and his stomach was performing a series of unfortunate events. Maybe the mention of the magical wolf mom made him think “Hey, it’s New Year’s Eve. I should go give my mom a call!”

Any of these are totally plausible reasons for his sudden departure, but I have a feeling he got up and left because he was just a colossal douchbag. The kind of douchebag who does the mental math, realizes the story he’s listening to doesn’t involve keggers and the chick listening isn’t going to whip out her boobs anytime soon, so he might as well cut his losses and go off in search of a keg. Or some boobs. Or a magical keg with boobs. Maybe he could write a book about that.

I’m not going to say that I was personally particularly interested in a story about magical wolves. I also am not personally particularly interested in a story about the coming of age of a teenage wizard with an awesomely ridiculous facial scar, but half of the reading world would say that’s the coolest freaking story EVER. I get that not every person is interested in every story.

Here’s what I am interested in: I’m interested in people with passion. Enough passion about anything – wolves, wizards, widgets, or wallabies – to want to painstakingly create a storyline around that thing. Someone with enough passion to turn that story over and over in his mind each day, adding little notes to the margins and creating whole chapters when he sees that there’s a back-story that needs to be told as well. Someone with the kind of passion that compels him to corner a total stranger at a New Year’s Eve party and try to convey every last wolfy detail in all of its wolfy glory, on the off chance that that stranger might also get swept away in the whole wolfy wonder that is the story that is the passion that is his life. That kind of passion is magic in and of itself.

When you’re telling a story about magical wolves, or regular wolves, or something entirely non-wolf related, you’ll realize that there are a few basic kinds of people in this world:

1. People who listen, engage, and support.
2. People who pretend to listen, or at least graciously excuse themselves, because they want to seem polite.
3. People who just roll their eyes and walk away.

The thing is, you never know which kind of person you’re talking to until you start talking. Until you take the amazing leap of faith to start telling your own magical wolf story. It’s an almost revolutionary act of self-love and self-support to share your passion with others. And it totally sucks that sometimes those others are just going to be colossal d-bags.

I wonder where the book-writer is today. I wonder if he wrote that book, and is enjoying the feeling of accomplishment that comes from finishing a project one holds dear. Maybe he met a girl at a coffee shop, and told her about his work in progress, and she had tons of amazing magical wolfy ideas herself, and they found that in writing the book together, they also wrote the first chapter in their own personal love story. Or maybe he left that story half-finished and moved on to another passion, another project that made his heart scream “Yes!Yes!Yes! This is how you should invest your time!”

I love that this admittedly weird guy put so much focus and energy into telling a complete stranger a completely absurd story because he was just so in it. It’s an almost tangible thing when people are so passionate about something, and I can feel their excitement and energy just pushing at me, inviting me to feel it and get excited by it, too. And that’s awesome. So freaking awesome.

I feel sorry for the d-bags in stories like this. I feel sorry for them because they probably don’t have a lot of nurturing, supportive people around them, because nurturing supportive people generally don’t invest a lot of emotional energy into d-bags. But mostly I feel sorry for them because they get up and walk away from moments like this. They don’t feel the push of energy. They can’t feel or recognize it because they have never felt that push come from their own heart.

I wonder what that’s like, to not feel that kind of passion about anything real. To have your excitement and energy all wrapped up in tiny little things that just feel big because you make them big. I wonder what it’s like to feel so content with who you are and what you’ve done that you don’t want to do more, be more, create more. To think that the money you have and the things you own are the sum of your wealth. That’s gotta suck. And I just don’t think any amount of words about magical wolves could fill up a life that empty.

F*@#ing Facebook

I don’t have a Facebook page. I’ve never had one. I disagree with so many things about Facebook, and it’s just such a huge time suck that I don’t need on top of all of the other time sucks I already give in to. Plus, the whole thing just seems like a huge vomit of “Look at me! Guess how many times I worked out this week! My kid is more awesome/adorable/advanced than yours! I’m having a rough day, but am going to be intentionally vague about it so that people will feel compelled to ask me how I am!”

Ugh.  The whole thing just reeks of self importance and self pity to me. Which is why I don’t have a Facebook page.

Except that I do. Kind of.

A few years ago, I was taking over the administrative functions for the Facebook page of an organization I was working with, and you can’t do that without a personal page. So I built a dummy page with a mostly fake name and refused to send or accept any friend requests except for the one person I had to so that I could do my job. (As a funny aside, that one person is the one person with whom I now share this blog. We are indeed intricately linked.)

So I was sitting on the couch today, fairly trapped by a contentedly napping newborn. Happy to have a few moments where his nap coincided with his older brother’s, I was averse to moving and spoiling the silence.  IPhone in hand, I proceeded to look up dumb things – on Pinterest, then etsy, then buzzfeed.  And then my brain whispered “Hey. Hey! Pssst!! Remember that guy you were friends with when you lived in that state you used to live in? The one you haven’t talked to since you left? Wonder how he’s doing.”

This guy, who I’ll call Michael, was indeed a great friend of mine. I met him while I was dating a guy I had no business dating, and who I dated for far longer than I should have dated him.  I’ll skip all the blahblahblah about that whole romantic situation, and just say that Michael was one of the best things I found while in an otherwise pointless relationship. He was one of my silver linings.

Michael was one of those rare folks that I just felt immediately comfortable around. He would inevitably end up at our apartment after a long day of work, and would just sink into the place, like he had been there the whole time. He once seamlessly pulled off what was possibly the best practical joke anyone had ever played on me, involving a fake scratch off lottery ticket that had me convinced for a few shining seconds that I had just won $10,000.  He was just an awesome human being, and a fantastic person to be around.  I can honestly say that my feelings for him were similar, although less strong, than the feelings I have for my big brother. When I moved away from that state, all of my friends there held a huge party in a lovely park for me, and Michael cried his eyes out when it was time for me to go. We had been close. We had been like siblings in that time of our lives, and I think we both knew we would never see each other again.

Fast forward ten or so years, and I am on the couch, sleeping babe in my arms, wondering if Michael’s life turned out well, if he was happy.  Enter the dummy Facebook page. It took less than a minute to find him, since he has a not entirely common last name. There he was, fuzzy beard, huge smile, holding a baby of his own.  I felt joy – real and big joy. Michael was doing well. He had a baby, he was happy. Hooray for facebook!

I should have left well enough alone. Should have taken a last look at his smiling face and round-cheeked baby and closed the tab. But I scrolled down. I checked out his posts. And my joy was gone.

Somewhere in the years between the party in the park and today, my dear friend had changed from a happy-go-lucky welcomer of all into a crazed, right-wing gun nut.  Not to be confused with a conservative Republican who happens to strongly support Second Amendment rights, this friend of mine now believed that every man, woman and child should be packing heat at all times. He believed that Sandy Hook was an intricately woven lie constructed by the liberal media to deprive honest Americans of their guns.  He believed that Obama was a terrorist, or Satan himself, or (gasp!) maybe even a Muslim.

His whole feed was just picture after picture, meme after meme, that let me know that aside from that round faced baby, he loved his guns more than anything.

And just like that, Michael was gone to me.

Since I moved away, I’ve remembered him from time to time, a dear friend who had been there with me in some of the more confusing years of my early adulthood.  We had not kept in touch, but I always felt that he was still my friend, was still the person I had forged such a valuable connection with.

I wish that I had kept Michael as he was in my heart. I wish that I still had that unbruised image of the friend he had been, and the person I hoped he had become.  If I had never moved away, I imagine Michael and I would have slowly grown apart and gone our separate ways as we each developed into the people we needed to be.  And I think I would have been ok with that. But this. This sudden loss of the picture I still held onto, it was just too much. It hurt my heart. In a way, I lost a friend today.

F*ck you, Facebook.  And f*ck me for being there in the first place.



Reading and Writing and Losing Time

There’s a story going around online called “The Last Taxi Ride.” It breaks my heart a little each time I read it. It’s about a cab driver who is picking up his last fare of the day. The woman he picks up is elderly, and tells him she is going to hospice, where she will soon die from cancer. She has no family left, and wants to take a scenic drive on the way to hospice. The cabbie drives her around for hours while listening to her memories of buildings they pass. The story ends with him dropping her off at hospice, and reflecting on how glad he was to have been the one to pick her up, to have been able to share that last beautiful drive with her.

So, I finished reading it this time, and instinctively started to go to snopes.com, so that I could find out if the story was true, or just another online fable that people had turned into fact.

Here’s where my personal magic happened – I stopped myself from checking out the story. There’s only two ways that could have ended: I could have found out that it was true, which I already believed it to be, or I could have learned that it was fabricated, which would have robbed me of the story I had built in my own head.

I’m still not sure what my lesson is here, or why this seems so important to me. I just know that, like most people in the world, my instinct is always to go online, check things out, find “facts” or other things that will validate or entertain or inspire or anger me…for what purpose? I have trouble just taking things at face value, just enjoying them in their singularity, without running to the internet to shove more information in my crowded head.

I’m disappointed at myself for not writing much (ok, at all) right now. I’m disappointed at not sewing more, reading more, connecting with loved ones more, genuinely relaxing more. And yet I throw time directly down the internet drain constantly. I justify that I can’t really focus on anything, since I’m caring for two very busy and wonderful and loud boys…but if I have 3 minutes to be online, I have 3 minutes to jot down some words, or sketch a pattern, or mail a card to a friend I have been missing.

It’s so clichéd that people need to unplug more…but clichés are clichés because they are true much of the time. I need to take control of my moments, each tiny little one, before they all add up to years that have slipped out of my hands. That’s not the life I want to live. That’s not the way I want to remember these early years of being a mom. I want to feel joy, not regret, when I look back on this time. I want to read stories like “The Last Taxi Ride” and be inspired to write, like I did here, instead of turning to the internet and getting my soul sucked out.

I own every moment of my life, and each one is precious. I want to start acting like it.

A New Year and Revolutionary Self-Love

januaryAhh, the new year. The magical time when many people feel they have been given a clean slate, a fresh start, and a second chance at whatever it is they are reaching towards. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it, that we can turn the page of a calendar and leave behind any mishaps, hurts, or heartaches from the past year? When I was much younger, the new year made me feel a bit invincible, almost drunk with excitement.  I remember waking up many January 1sts believing in my heart that this was my year.

Now that I am (ahem) a bit older, the new year still fills me with hope, although in much more concrete ways. Instead of casually wishing for stronger relationships, happier days, and healthier living, I am more conscious of the decisions and actions that will lead me to these things. It’s easy for me to say “I want to be a better friend.”  But the truth of it is that being a better friend is not a choice to make on a specific day. Being a better friend, to me, means being conscious of the tiny choices I can make to work my way towards the friend I want to be. It means using a few spare minutes to send a card to someone who is important to me. Yep, an actual paper card, with ink on it and a stamp to get it to where it needs to go.  It means getting a text about a problem at work or a fight with a relative, responding, and also asking them about it a few days later to see if they need more support. Being a good friend means being conscious of what I can do to make their lives easier and happier and more wonderfully full.

Admittedly, taking care of myself often falls to the bottom of my list of important things when I think of the year ahead. I’m a friend, a wife, a mom, a sister, a daughter…I have lots and lots of other people who clearly need me every single waking moment. I don’t have time to spend on me.  I can always take care of me later.

If you spotted the ridiculous truth I’ve told myself, and saw through it immediately, you’re probably already doing a good job of taking care of yourself.

You see, the truth is, no matter how much I want to love and care for and support and feed those around me, I’m pretty damn useless when I am feeling unloved, uncared for, unsupported and unfed myself. It’s been a long road, and continues to be a difficult thing for me, but I am starting to recognize and actually believe that I am worthy of my own time and love. Even writing that now, it seems like such an obvious truth, but it has taken me a really long time to soak it up in my heart. I’m not unique here, it’s something many of us struggle with.

My challenge to you, yes you – the one telling yourself the same story about how putting others first is alwaysalwaysalways the very best thing you can do – is to make a list of the people you care most about. It doesn’t have to be in any particular order, but it should include just the handful or so that are most important in your life. It’s a private list, just for you, so don’t worry about offending anyone by leaving them off. You can name it whatever you want: People I Love, Awesome Folks, The Ones That Matter Most.

Now stop reading, and go make that list right now. I’ll wait here.

Got it?

Ok, look back over the list. Did you leave anyone off? Include anyone out of feelings of obligations rather than genuine love or desire for connectedness? Go ahead and edit it.  Now you have a good working list of who you want to devote time and energy and love to this year.

Here’s the revolutionary act I am encouraging: Add yourself to the list. Write your own name right there with the other people who are most wonderful, most important, and most loved in your life. You are (and should be) one of those people. As such, you deserve the time and energy and love too.

I once made a pact with a dear friend of mine. We were sitting on my living room floor bemoaning our various body “flaws.” I was wishing that I had her slender hips, and poked at the (possibly imagined) chubbiness of my own. She pointed out her small chest, and wondered if boobs would ever appear. We were wallowing in our own self pity. And then something truly magical happened. As I was telling her how I thought she was perfectly perfect exactly as she was, I realized how unkind I was being to myself.  I looked into her lovely eyes and said “We would never say to each other the things we just said about ourselves. We would never be so mean.” We made a pact then to be aware of times when we were speaking or thinking ill of ourselves, and to ask “Would the other one ever say this about me?” It was a way of keeping ourselves honest in our quest to love and accept ourselves the way we were. This was over 15 years ago, but I am proud to say that I have caught myself many times thinking yucky things about myself, and then remembered the pact. Apparently, she has too.

So the challenge here is to add your own name to the list to keep yourself honest about loving and respecting yourself. I feel in my heart that you are so worth that, and so worthy of that. It’s amazing how much more and better we can love others and care for others when we are loving and caring for ourselves. If you still insist that everyone else is more important, consider it a gift to those you love to put yourself on the list. I am positive that you would be tops on their list, and that they want as many good things for you as you want for them. So do this. Love them with everything you’ve got, and love yourself right along with them. Make this your year.

Alisha K.

Photo Credit.